As we have begun a new, intergenerational Sunday school format, some of you may be wondering why. The reason is that strong relationships across generations are a vital part of forming and developing faith in both children and adults.
A school of thought in youth ministry for the past number of decades is that a church needs highly developed, highly funded, age-specific programs for youth. When running such programs the rule of the thumb is that you need one chaperone/sponsor for every five youth. However, studies have indicated that this model doesn’t necessarily result in youth who own their faith into adulthood. A new understanding says that to fully form a lasting faith in youth, a church must flip that ratio to five adults investing in one youth. This doesn’t mean formal mentorship and a lot of added organization. What it does mean is creating space for intergenerational relationships to form naturally and organically.
On the flip side, over the past decades, many adults and parents have bought into the idea that a person needs a special calling or “professional skill set” to minister to youth. They think they don’t have it, and therefore outsource faith formation to the youth program and youth workers. Too many adults short-change themselves in this regard, and then many youth lack the necessary faith support system they need to sustain them. Additionally, many adults miss out on the joy of discipling the next generation.
This represents a change in mindset from what we are used to; even for myself as a pastor. Occasionally I meet another family around town. If the topic of church comes up, one of the first questions parents are conditioned to ask is “what kind of youth programs do you have?” The mistake I usually make is to answer with a description of what we do, how many children and youth we have, and the kinds of things we believe. What I need to do better at is engaging them in a way that helps them understand that the question, “what kind of youth programs do you have?” is actually the wrong question.
Highly developed youth programs do not necessarily equate to lasting faith. Intergenerational communities of faith that model faith, hope, and love do. The better question to ask and answer is the question, “how do you form strong relationships among all ages that take faith, church, and scripture seriously.” That is what we are trying to do with our new Sunday School format twice a month. Children, teens, young adults, middle age, and elders are all encouraged to join.